On Tuesday morning President Obama will be speaking to children in schools all across America. He will deliver the messages that we have spent our careers delivering to our students: stay in school. Work hard. Take responsibility for your education. Do your homework. Dream big.
He’s the perfect person to sing such a hopeful tune. By now we all know from whence this man has come. Born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up, at least for a time, in poverty. He struggled as a youth to maintain a focus on his education. But ultimately, he graduated from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet– including Harvard Law School. He became a community organizer to parley his education into some good for others. He served his community. He ran for public office. He expanded his influence. And in one of the most inspirational stories in our nation’s long tradition of resilient citizens, he rose above the odds to become the first African American President of the United States.
He’s the guy that wants to step into our classrooms and tell kids that if they work hard and persevere and not make excuses they too can achieve their dream. He’s an orator. He is a poet. He is compelling. He is engaging.
Tuesday morning when the sun rises on the first day of school across most of America, children will meet their new teacher and new classmates and the televisions will click on and the President will welcome them back. At least some of them.
As is the case with all things now in American politics, this too has been spoiled. The President has been demonized and his intentions sullied by another fight. The same group of unhinged people who question our President’s legitimacy as an American citizen (Dred Scott?), who challenge his authenticity as an elected official, who carry guns to his public appearances, who freely and publicly characterize him by the twin hot button n-words: “nigger” and “nazi”, who muse that he “is not one of us”, who simultaneously suggest he wants to kill our elders… now suggest he wants to get his hooks into our children’ minds. Christians… sowing the seeds of hatred.
Knuckleheads from the far (and not so far) right wing of the Republican Party have managed to cast so many shadows on the President’s address to school children, that most will never hear the message. Even elected officials have gone so far as to suggest that the president intends to use his “bully pulpit” to foment socialism and spread his radical ideologies to an unsuspecting captive audience of school kids who just want to know where to store their lunch pail in their new classrooms.
“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power. While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.” — Jim Greer, GOP Chair, Florida
“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” — Oklahoma Republican State Senator Steve Russell
North Korea? Are you freakin’ serious?
What is it about these people? How far does their hypocrisy go? I remember when their guy was in office… if you questioned his judgment (?) or direction you were no less than a traitor to America. I remember him trying to string two coherent sentences together on any topic. I remember all the members of his party suddenly running for office on the “family values” ticket… then demonstrating none of the values most families I know would ever espouse.
I remember their education showhorse called No Child Left Behind. It was going to spur school reform in America once and for all. It was going to resurrect our schools and get us back to the basics. We would be able to expose those schools that aren’t taking care of children– fire the teachers and the principals and allow parents to cut bait if need be and send their kids to schools that were really teaching. We would even close the achievement gap across racial and socio-economic lines. And the truth would be told in test scores.
And it was. And the truth is that No Child Left Behind was never intended to close the achievement gap nor improve the quality of public education for children in all communities across America– which may explain in part why it has done neither.
So while parents fret over whether they should “allow their child to be exposed to the message from the White House” on Tuesday– the irony is most schools won’t have time to air it anyway.
And the “lesson plans” and other prepared materials designed to assist teachers in framing class discussions after the President’s address? The one’s that really have created a collective aneurism among Republicans? The ones that actually have the audacity to challenge kids to think… that prompts them with such radical questions as “How might you help the president?”
I can guarantee that schools won’t have time to delve into those either. They will be far too busy with drilling students on basic skills and jumping through the hoops crafted by NCLB. They will be preparing students to answer the standardized test questions that they will confront in May.
What a shame. What a loss for those children and their naive parents. They will miss the point that Barack Obama did not rise to the station of the American Presidency because he can take standardized tests or survive a curriculum so narrowly tuned to reading and math. He rose to the presidency because he can THINK. He is a reader, a writer, an orator, a lover of art and music and people. He is a leader. Spiritual. Self disciplined and self made. He is the embodiment of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. He is the very model of what our public schools should strive for. And perhaps that is the biggest fear of all for those on the right: That our public schools might actually work! That we might, if untethered from the yoke of mindless standardized testing, reach across the great socio-economic divide and actually raise children from every community and race and ethnicity and gender group– to compete. Anywhere. Against anybody. Even to be President of the United States.
This Tuesday the televisions will be on at El Milagro. We told teachers if they can fit it into their schedules they should. But it is up to them. And if parents don’t want their children exposed to this man… they can opt out. It is their call. Their conscious. They can be complicit in the very blatant educational malpractice that began during the Bush presidency if they so choose. Or they could actually seize the teachable moment and model for their own children that rarest of gifts these days: the ability to THINK for oneself.